Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 20 March 2019

So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.   2 Timothy 1:8 (NIV).

Dear fellow believer, we’re going to suffer for this.   You and me, because we boldly say, “I believe in Jesus,” are going to suffer.   In just these last few days, hundreds of Christians have been murdered by Muslims in several African nations.   In Iran, a pastor was recently detained and will serve 10 years hard labor for talking about Jesus.  Churches in China are being torn down by their communist government.  Here in the good old USA, the Federal government is actively trying to tear down a war memorial in Maryland because it’s the shape of a cross.   In schools, universities, and work-rooms everywhere, talking about Jesus is a no-no while words about the NCAA brackets and Game of Thrones are encouraged.

Let’s be real:   ‘suffering’ in America, for now, is pale compared to the persecution our brothers and sisters face overseas.  That simply means the physical pain hasn’t reached our shores yet.   Don’t be daft about it, my friend:  it’s coming.   Disaster, like grace, can come on us in an instant.

Because that’s so true, we shouldn’t be ashamed to be followers of the one true God.   We should be proud to follow Jesus, proud to let Him work through us.   We have become ‘captive’ to His Spirit and are prisoners of His good news.   He holds the keys to our ‘captivity’ and loves us enough for us to stay in His confinement as long as we so wish.  Fall under the love and gaze of the King of Kings and you’ll want only to remain prisoner in His presence.

But make no mistake about it.  It’ll cost you.   This world, fallen and rebellious to Him, will make you pay for professing your belief in Jesus Christ.  The Romans, at the behest of the Jews (and then later on their own) imprisoned and abused Paul before eventually executing him.  All for following Jesus.   All for the rebellion of saying “no, I believe in Jesus of Nazareth.”   It happened in the past.   Even here in peaceful America, it can – and will – happen again.

You and I will be made to suffer for this belief, for this thing that is protected under our Constitution’s first amendment.   We will emotionally suffer, economically suffer, physically suffer.  In time (and it could happen quickly) the things (like worship) that we think are protected could change and a world hostile to Christ will turn against Him by targeting you.

When that happens, friend, let’s celebrate.   Let’s smile in the face of the adversity, turn the other cheek while standing up for our faith, and be prepared to meet Jesus when our government does to us what Paul’s did to him.

For further reading:   Mark 8:38, Ephesians 3:1, 2 Timothy 9.

Praise to You, Lord Jesus, that I may suffer for You.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 11 July 2018

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 (NIV).

When I was a kid, I spent most of my middle school years in southeast Oklahoma.  During lunch hours, I sat with kids who talked about their churches (really, they did).   It was the late 1970s, and they talked a lot about the end times, about the days and things that will happen when Jesus returns.   I had attended church all my life, the churches I had attended were mainstream northern protestant (Lutheran or Presbyterian), not charismatic evangelicals such as Baptist, Assemblies of God, or Pentecostal.  I had never learned about any of this, and what they said scared the crap out of me, making me question whether I was good enough for Jesus.

I felt angry, upset at how they treated this end-times news as if it was some special information only they knew about.   These teenagers tossed it around as if it was something cool, something given just to them, and when I started asking questions they responded with, “DON’T YOU KNOW THIS?”   I didn’t.   That was the point when I gave up.

News flash:   on our own, you and I AREN’T good enough for Jesus.   We choose other things and separate ourselves from Him.   But it isn’t up to us to do things to become “good enough” for Him.  We can’t.   He’s already done everything necessary to repair our relationship.  At the cross, He replaced our sin with His blood and our uncleanness with His purity.   When His Father sees us, all He sees is Jesus covering one of His beloved children.

Here’s a second news flash:   this is for everyone.   It isn’t just for Christians or evangelicals.  It isn’t just for people who look or think like you, and it isn’t just for the people you like.   It isn’t just for black people or white people, and it isn’t just for Americans or Ugandans or underground believers who defy Communist China.  Jesus is coming back and He’s coming back with holy fire to make all things new, and He wants everyone to know so they can believe in Him first.   It isn’t a secret, and we aren’t to act as if you need a secret handshake to know it.  We aren’t better than anyone just because we know it even if we may be better informed.   Get with the program but don’t be a jerk about it.

For further reading: Philippians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Kings 17:18, Isaiah 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Lord, help Me to witness for You today to everyone.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, Good Friday, 30 March 2018.

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.  1 Thessalonians 3:13 (NIV).

Since it’s Good Friday, before you remember that “it is finished,” I’m going to lay some bad news on you that you probably won’t want to hear.

You aren’t good enough.

You, me, Pope Francis, Roseanne Barr, David Hogg, Franklin Graham, anyone else you can think of:   on our own we are damned.   Not just damned dirty dogs, damned dirty sinners, damned old curmudgeons, but really damned.   Eternally separated from God forever.  On our own, we have thought, said, and done things that put an abyss between the love of Jesus that declared “it is finished” and where we’re standing now.

When we try to do good things for other people because people are inherently good, we’re damned.   When we feel remorse for things we’ve done because that’s what you should feel, we’re damned.   When…when…when:  the list goes on.  We cherish self-reliance, and against the face of a hostile world, those behaviors seem good.   They bring out the best in us.   But on their own, they’re the path to eternal damnation.   You and I are still in one place and Jesus, the Light of the world and eternal love, is in another.   Accept it:  without Jesus, you’re damned, stuck.  Whatever hell is, whether it’s fire, pain, torture, or even just permanent emotional distress, it’s the best you can hope for.   Reject the love of Jesus and that’s your present and your future.  You aren’t good enough.

Face it, damned friend, you need help.

Good Friday is all about that help.   Good Friday is the reason Paul confidently gave this benediction to friends he knew would understand it.  Good Friday is the reason he knew, and we can know, that we can be blameless and holy in the presence of God.  Without Good Friday, we’re damned in front of God, and it’s a fearful thing to stand there in that condition.  With Good Friday, all is forgiven; everything.   My cheating and lying, your rebellion and hatred, the judgmentalism we thrust on strangers, the anger and the murder and the adultery and the idolatry are ALL forgiven.   None of them will earn us the reward of hell.   Because of Good Friday Jesus said, “it is finished.”   His death is the defining moment in all of human history, and it makes the difference in this world and the next.   Forever.

You and I are never good enough on our own.   We desperately need God to intervene in our lives and make things right.   On the cross, Jesus did just that.   He, who really is good enough, did it today, on Good Friday.   On its own, Friday is just another day.   What Jesus did made you, and this holiday, more than good enough.

For further reading:   1 Thessalonians 4:1.

Lord, thanks for Your death, for Your life, for Your forgiveness.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 November 2017

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”  Hebrews 13, verse 6.

This verse actually goes hand-in-hand with verse 5; as you’ll remember, that verse concludes with “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  God will never forsake us and never abandon us no matter what we’ve done.   Even if we lead a life of despicable sin, He will work until our very last moment to turn our hearts back to Him.  When we realize that, we GET TO shed even our worst fears.

Knowing that gave Jesus the courage to hang in agony on the cross.   Knowing that let all His disciples save one to go to their deaths as martyrs.   Knowing that has allowed missionaries for two thousand years to go into the field, turn their worlds upside down, and even risk death for the sake of being “there” and being able to say “do you know this Jesus?”   Knowing that enables you to stand and say “I believe” even when pressures of friends, family, and the world challenge you to deny it.

The world, the devil, and other people can kill your body but nobody can extinguish your soul.   That’s the ultimate truth of faith, namely that eternity really does matter most.

Have you considered that, if you’re consigned to hell, you’re alive?   You aren’t annihilated.   You’re conscious there of what’s happening and you know it forever.   The “life” one leads in hell isn’t the living for which we’re intended.   Indeed, it’s the full consequence of the sins we embrace in this life that separate us from the heart of God.  It is the ultimate separation from the love that makes life worth living.  Misery, anguish, sorrow, pain, torture:  they exist from the inside out for all who walk through hell’s gate.  Hell isn’t a place to which God sentences us:   it’s the place we choose while we’re here by continually rejecting Him.

Here on the Third Rock, each of us lives as a sentient body for only so long and then we enter eternity.   During our time here, God continuously provides for us life, food, water, air, shelter, and love.  He does it until our very last heartbeat.   It’s up to us what we do with those things He gives to us.   Do we only consume them, or do we consume and share them?   Are we only existing or are we existing and thanking God that we are?   Can we get by with what we have or can we get by and then use our time, talents, and treasures to share with others as God shares?   What will you believe and then what will you do about that?

When we turn to God, He begins His work in us.  For us, it starts with “I believe”, realizing that Jesus has already done everything needed for that to happen.  The path to hell is changed into a guaranteed entrance into heaven.   He takes up residence in our hearts and begins to work from the inside out.   He helps us in all we think, say, and do.   No we don’t always get it right, and sometimes we do terribly wrong.   That doesn’t mean God has abandoned us.   It means we’ve chosen something else.   Yet even in the middle of those choices, God’s Spirit is still within us and beckons us to choose differently.   We get to choose life even when we’ve previously chosen death.  To turn from the heart-attitude that caused us to sin and let Him scour it out.   He helps us and flourishes in us.   When that happens, we can’t help but share it, we can’t help but want to follow and do His better will.

When that happens, we begin to realize that nothing can extinguish His love inside us, and nothing can take it away, and nothing can overcome it.  Satan and his world may kill us for it but that won’t stop it.   In the next life, God’s love comes to full miraculous fruition.   Can you imagine, then, what even a hint of His love could do here and now?

The robbers next to Jesus on Calvary both heaped insults and scorn on Him as they hung there dying.   Yet sometime during that day, one of them realized his sin and appealed to Christ for mercy.  In that very moment, Jesus promised the man eternity in paradise; you can have confidence that he’s there now.   Even in those moments of physical torture, God filled up this man’s heart and gave him the courage to die and then truly live.   There are stories of mercy even in the Holocaust of World War II.   There is the story of the girl at Columbine who stood up for her faith and was summarily murdered for it.   Just this past weekend, 26 believers were slaughtered by a lunatic who had gleefully abandoned God.  Those people are more alive now in heaven than they ever were here; I feel pity for the killer who is probably alive some place else.  All of these are manifestations of God’s promise to always help us and quench our fears.   When He is with us, there’s no need to ever be afraid of anything the world thinks it can do.

For further reading:  Psalm 118:6-7, Matthew 13:50, Revelation 20:14-15.

My saving Lord, thank You so much for always being with me.   Thank You for inspiring courage in me.  Thank You for always working Your will in my life.   Help me to better live out Your wonderful will today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 May 2017

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10, verses 24-25.

I’m building a collection of rocks around the base of the cross we built by my pond.   At our old house, I had built a similar collection of stones from all around the world.   California, Florida, China, Uganda:   wherever I went, I picked up a rock.  They were put in a special planter built for just that purpose, but when we moved I left the rocks there.   Now, I’m building a new collection and it already has rocks from Walt Disney World, the Gulf Coast, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and places all over Texas.   I even have an old chunk of amethyst my Mom had acquired (I believe) at a rock quarry in Arkansas way back when I was a kid.

Somehow it seems neat to me to gather stones from all over the world to place them there at the foot of the cross.   That cross was almost the first project we did when we moved into this house last year.   The day after we took possession, my son, son-in-law, and I cut down a tree in our woods, fashioned it into a cross, bolted and roped it together, and then installed it in concrete.   A few months later, I wrapped it in solar lights so that it lights up at night.   When you drive by our house at night, you can see the cross, reflected off the pond.   It’s our own kind of witness to our friends and neighbors.

What does this have to do with verses 24 and 25?   To be honest, I’m not sure it has anything to do with it.  Then again..

…Then again, maybe it has everything to do with it.  My rock collection is like a collection of people, coming together to worship and make the cross of the Lord look better.  The longer we live here, the more it matters to give glory to God.  There are rocks of different shapes, different composition, different colors.   All together, they’re a mosaic.   They’re a strong base that gives the structure both foundation and beauty.

They’re like a church.   We started going to our home church, Waters Edge Frisco, in 2006, when it was still worshiping in a school.   Eleven years, several pastors, a discordant split, and hundreds of members later, I hardly recognize the place for all the new faces and new directions in which it’s moving.   That’s a good thing.   The people of God are the church, not some building or even some congregation.   We’re supposed to move in the world, yet we’re also called to come together to give glory to God.  When we do, it’s a refreshing thing to see a fresh, new mosaic of people calling that place home while others from the past have gone on to color their new homes with the purpose and freshness then once brought to ours.   That, too, is a good thing, for the body of God is alive.

We go to church to be the church, and the more I grow in faith, the more I value my time with my fellow believers.   We’re like those stones around the cross, bringing purpose, beauty, and strength to worship our God.   The more I grow in my faith, though, the more I see that the worship isn’t about our purpose, beauty or strength.   We get those things from God Himself.   They aren’t ours alone.   They aren’t even ours to give.   They’re qualities given to people to share in God’s greater mission.   All the more as we see the days of the end approaching, it’s a good thing to come together as groups and gather around the cross to simply worship He who was once nailed to it.   In doing so, we encourage each other and build each other up.

When we give glory to Jesus, He shines that glory out over us like the Sun warming the land.

It’s my hope to one day build that rock collection so big that it overtakes the cross.   I’ll have to expand around it at that point.   It’s my hope that friends, family and, better yet, strangers, will look at the collection and ask how it came to be, and what it means.   It’s my hope that, in a pile of rocks, they’ll see a unique glimpse of the Savior.

For further reading:  Titus 2:14, Acts 2:43, Hebrews 3:13, 1 Corinthians 3:13.

Lord, may I be Your rock in a wonderful collection of other stones.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 April 2017

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:  “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.  Hebrews 10, verses 15-18.

There is so much to unpack here.   These verses quote Jeremiah 31, and if you haven’t read the words of that lamenting prophet, next time you are in a place of need, read Jeremiah.   He, too, knew desperate soul-crushing hurt yet clung to God no matter what befell him (and he lived in terrible times).

Perhaps the best thing that Jeremiah recorded was that quote: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”   In remembering our lawless acts no more, God blots out the consequences of our sins and sees us perfectly through Jesus.   When Jeremiah was alive, men did not know of a man named Jesus; it was hundreds of years before Christ.  Instead, the time after Jesus is what Jeremiah was talking about in chapter 31, specifically the time when Jesus was no longer physically present as a man yet would always be omnipresent as Spirit.   He would live in our souls and reason with us through our intellects.

You and I are living in that time now.   When you say you believe in Jesus, you’re lining up with Jeremiah.   You’re choosing sides, and you’re acknowledging that you desire for Jesus Christ to live in your soul, reason with your mind, and work through your hands.   When you choose sides and choose Jesus, you’re acknowledging that all your wrongs have been forgiven.   Everything that you’ve ever done in sin is forgiven, washed away.   No longer do you need some stranger priest to sacrifice an animal in your stead so that you might make atonement for what you’ve done.

Most of all, you aren’t guilty any more.   You’ve been declared ‘not guilty’ and you are permanently not guilty.  Jesus took ALL of your guilt and negated the need for you to carry it around.   This is perhaps my toughest sin; it’s the one I all too frequently commit.   Years ago I laid the guilt of my sins at the cross, yet I seem to constantly walk back there every now and then and pick up the writhing, nasty sack that contains that guilt.   I throw it over my shoulder and walk away.   With each step it feels heavier, smells worse, threatens more.  All the while, it feels like Jesus is looking at me from His cross, staring down at me, imploring me to put the bag down again and walk away from it.  It’s like He’s saying to me “I’m forgiving all that.   It doesn’t define you any more.   I define you now.   You can put it down.”

Years of faith, years of study, years of therapy, years of prayer confirm this truth to me, that Jesus fully, freely declares me not guilty of even the worst things I’ve ever done.   Yet I still commit the sin of trying to carry around that guilt again and again, long after he’s forgiven it.   It lures me back, welling up feelings of remorse, inadequacy, hurt.  The harsh truth is that it is a sin to keep picking it up.   It’s a form of idolatry, and it’s like saying to Jesus “I don’t believe You really can do this.”

He forgives that sin too.   That’s the point where my head is blown.   I’m completely befuddled at how He does that, how He forgives me when I mess up the first time, then how He reminds me that He’s forgiven those later sins too.   It’s because of His sacrifice that He reminds me of how He loves me, how He’s forgiven me, how He’s written that love on my heart and in my mind.   How that divine love defines me now.

We’re living in the time when that is the norm.  It has been the norm for over two thousand years since the days when Jesus walked the earth.   These days, He still walks it, but does so through the feet of a billion believing souls.   We are living in the time Jeremiah prophesied, and before the time when Jesus will return to walk again on His own feet.  The same feet the Romans nailed to the cross…the same cross where we daily lay down our sins and work to walk away from them knowing all the work we really need has already been completed.   Somewhere in my head I hear that song from “Frozen,” trilling me to ‘let it go.’   How I wish it felt that easy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:7m, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10.

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I constantly relive, re-carry the guilt of all the sins You’ve forgiven.   You did it completely, fully.   Help my unbelief.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 December 2016

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Hebrews 6, verses 4-6.

Something else that needs to be said, and this is going to be harsh.

“To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”   We do it every day.   It’s why He chose the cross; it’s why, every day, He chooses it again and again when you and I, selfish bastards that we are, keep stabbing him with those Roman nails.   We do it with our sins, small and large, even the ones we don’t think amount to much.   Have you begun to realize all the effects of your God-damned sins?   Yes, I said that.   Your sins and mine:   they’re cause for God to damn us to eternal punishment.   Personally, I think that punishment starts here and now and only gets worse as we go.   God damn us for all of our sins.

Enough of the profanity.   I hope you don’t mind it too much…it’s for effect and I’m hoping that it makes you think, maybe even a little angry.  You should be righteously angry at sin; angry enough to do something about it.   Jesus did.   And yet we keep taking up that hammer and ramming those nails back into His hands and feet.

Every single time you and I fail we nail Jesus back to that cross.   He suffered mortal agony the first time around, and then He suffered spiritual agony being ripped apart from His Divine being (so as to suffer and redeem us) while still being inevitably matched to Him as well.   Then He rose three days later, making death and suffering moot forever.  And yet every minute since, whenever someone has done, said or thought anything contrary to Him, it’s like we have nailed Him back onto that cross.

Here in the first-world, we persecute those who believe in Jesus.   You’ve done it; so have I.   Huh?   You bet you have.   Ever been afraid to speak up and say you’re a believer?   Ever been ashamed of your faith because the ‘cool kids’ didn’t seem to be ashamed of themselves?   Ever felt even the slightest bit sanctimonious when you did speak up, not realizing your proud sanctimony is a disgrace to Him who loves us unselfishly?  Every single time we do things like these, even the tiniest thing, we are disgracing Jesus again.   We are joining in with the crowd along the Via Dolorosa who spit on Him, screamed at Him, hated Him.  You and I already know it’s un-cool to be a believer in Hollywood or even on social media.   That’s persecution my friend, even if it’s soft-boiled.

And REAL persecution?   You know, the kind that gets you killed for being a believer?   It’s happening in every Muslim country on the planet.   It’s happening on steroids in places controlled by ISIS and Boko Haram.   It’s still happening in communist strongholds like Cuba, and China, and North Korea.   Don’t fool yourself:   when you and I sin, we’re joining in the execution squads in Iran who torture you, then stand you up against the wall simply for saying “I believe in Jesus and not Mohammed.”

Like I said, God damn us for our sins.   He can, He will, He doesn’t want to, but He must if we don’t repent of them.   God is holy and must be holy.   Our very lives depend on it.  If He isn’t, even for an iota of a second, then this whole universe comes apart.   The places where the spiritual and physical intertwine would become explosion points of sin if there is no holy and just Lord God Almighty to bind them together.

Thank God that He is the cure for the common damnation.   The cure for damnation is Jesus.   Every time we do the difficult, mature thing and turn from our sins, it’s like witnessing Jesus rise from death again.   We’re the women at the garden tomb, clinging fast to our risen Lord.   We’re the blind man who can see again because He healed us.   We’re Peter, restored to faith after denying Him three times.   If our sins nail Him to that cross every time, then our repentance and re-acceptance of His gift of true salvation is being restored into His resurrection.   Damnation becomes simply a road we didn’t follow when we step back onto the path of following Jesus.   Then and only then do we grasp how He was ready for us all along.   The salvation wasn’t undone by our rebellion even as our rebellion renounced our acceptance of His salvation.

For further reading:   Luke 2:14, Philippians 3:12-14, Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 9:14, John 3:25, Acts 6:6, Acts 2:24, Acts 17:24, Acts 18:21.

Lord Jesus, I praise You for all You did in saving us.   I’m truly sorry for the sins I’ve done that nailed You to the cross.   I’m truly sorry that I’ve kept on doing them.   Live in me and strengthen me to turn from my awful sins and to follow only You.